What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us to Know?

Marie Fetzner


Over the past twelve years, Monroe Community College (MCC), in Rochester, NY, has administered three surveys to non-successful online students to ask about their perceptions of online learning and to learn about student perceived barriers in the online environment. For these surveys, non-successful students were defined as those students who received a grade of F or W in an MCC online course. Typically, these particular students do not share their perceptions of online learning with the college because they rarely participate in end of the year student satisfaction surveys. Thus, their perceptions are often invisible and unknown to institutions. In the MCC surveys, students were asked to: share their perspectives on why they felt that were not successful in their online class comment on their expectations for online classes and share the advice that they would give to a student who was considering taking an online MCC course. The students’ responses to these questions were fairly consistent over the course of the time that the surveys were conducted, 2000K2001, 2005K2006, and 2009K2010. The combined responses for the three surveys indicated that the number one reason why students felt that they were not successful in their online course was because they got behind and couldn’t catch up. Although online student satisfaction surveys provide insights into the perceptions of online students, the voluntary respondents to these surveys are those students who typically did well in the course. A review of the results of the responses from unsuccessful online students broadens the scope of the voice of the students and brings to the forefront the perspectives of students who were not successful. These data can help to inform the types of student services support that unsuccessful online MCC students feel are needed.


Online retention, Online student needs, Online student perceptions


Study takes place over twelve years at Monroe Community College in Rochester New York.
Over that period three surveys were administered to non-successful online students to learn about their perceptions and perceived barriers to online learning. Response from the survey indicate the number one reason why students felt that they were not successful in their online course was because they got behind and couldn’t catch up. Online enrollment is 17% of the total enrollment of the college. 48% of those students are first time online students.

● Retention rates of online students are 10-20% less than in person students.
● In 2003, Monroe found that the success (defined as a grade of C or better) of full-time students was almost 14 percentage point lower in online courses than in traditional courses, and the difference between part-time and full-time students in online course success was almost 18 percentage points.p 14
● First time,, full time students were the least likely to successfully complete online courses.
● Survey consists of a 45 question survey conducted over the telephone
● Survey instrument was developed using the framework from M. Garland’s work, Student perceptions of the Situational, Institutional. Dispositional and Epistemological barriers to persistence.
● Total of 438 students responded with a response rate of 14%
● When competed to MCC’s total online student population, the sample population was overpopulated by males and by 20-24 year olds, and it was underrepresented by blacks and “other” ethnicities, and by first time online students.
● Results: in 2003 almost ⅓ of first time online MCC students were not successful.
● Students reported that they did not know what to expect from an online course.
● Number one reason for not being successful was: “I got behind and it was too hard to catch up”
● 31.3% of the unsuccessful students said there was no chance, or that it was not likely, that they would take another online course.
● Advice to future online students:
1. Stay up with the course activities- don’t get behind
2. Use Good time management skills
3. Use good organizational skills
4. Set aside specific times during each week for your online class
5. Know how to get technical help
● Other study findings:
● The age and time of registration are each significant contributors to grade performance of MCC’s online students (>25 years of age or above increases performance)
● The best chance of an online student getting a grade of C or better occurs when they register five or more weeks before the start of the semester
● The greater the number of prior higher education credit hours earned increases the chances of getting a C or better in the students’ online course.

APA Citation

Fetzner, M. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us to Know?. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 13-27.

About the Study

Links to Article https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=5%2C50&sciodt=0%2C50&cites=17555804787999645003&scipsc=&q=%29.+What+Do+Unsuccessful+Online+Students+Want+Us+to+Know%3F.&btnG=
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks
Type of Research Mixed methods
Research Design Survey research (qualitative or quantitative)
Intervention/Areas of Study Student motivation, Student readiness
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Undergraduates
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 2-year institution, Public
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades
Student Sample Size 400-499
Citing Articles https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=15303976406219441266&as_sdt=5,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en